Category Archives: Politics

Alternative American Media Universes/Progressive San Fran. Democrat Flushed

Excerpts from two opinion pieces at the NY Times (now aka “The Rainbow Lady”–or should that be “Person”? Full texts available at headline links):

1) The latter part of a column by the conservative regular at the “Sunday Review”):

2) The start of an opinion piece by the conservative regular in the weekday Times:

A sad, sorry state of democratic affairs. Related posts:

The Biden Presidency, or, Democrats Going over the Cliff? [featuring Maureen Dowd}

Biden No Longer One Nation’s President…

Democrats Forgot Their Donkeys

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

US Mass Shootings Cartoon of the Day

This, by Brian Gable at the Globe and Mail June 8, is a shockingly acute reflection of contemporary American reality:

A recent post along similar lines:

Uvalde, Texas, Cartoon of the Day

Sigh. Very much to the point. Sad country.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Canadians Basically Don’t Care About National Security–So Neither Do Our Politicians…

…and our federal government can be very ineffective anyway these days.

Further to this May 24 post,

Major New Report by Real National Security Experts: Big Threats to Canada–PRC, Russia and…the US

excerpts from a blog post by Adam Chapnick (tweets here), a Canadian academic who knows this stuff:

On public trust and Canadian national security…

Last week, the University of Ottawa’s Task Force on National Security released its much anticipated report: A National Security Strategy for the 2020s.

The Task Force was directed by the recently-retired former national security and intelligence advisor to the prime minister, Vincent Rigby, and one of the most credible analysts of security and defence in this country, Thomas Juneau.
 
They were joined by a veritable who’s who of Canadian national security experts.
 
In other words, it’s hard to imagine a more qualified group to make recommendations on “How Canada can adapt to a deteriorating security environment.”
 
The majority of the report’s recommendations are entirely reasonable, in particular in terms of how Ottawa should organize the public service to analyze and counter threats to the state, to national institutions, and to individual Canadians.

…I am not hopeful that it will effect transformative change in Ottawa.

The authors all but explain why on page 10:

“Collectively, we have neglected national security for decades, largely because we could afford to do so. Shielded from major threats, we generally suffered little or no cost for our complacency. Whenever we dealt with national security issues, it was largely in a reactive way, in response to events, and not through a more proactive, structured approach.”..

Barring a genuine catastrophe, the national security apparatus is unlikely to touch a sufficient number of Canadians directly, and sustainably, so as to effect the necessary change in public perception.

On the other hand, who hasn’t heard of someone with a problem renewing their passport, or with the status of their immigration paperwork recently? Are there any Canadians left that aren’t aware that long-term drinking water advisories are still a reality on almost 30 [First Nations] reserves?  

If public trust is key to changing Canada’s national security culture (which it might well be), perhaps Ottawa should focus on getting the little things right. Do that, and I suspect that the Canadian public will be much more amenable to tackling the big challenges down the road.

Hopefully, we can reach that point before it’s too late.

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If you do read the report, why not compare it to a similar one produced by the Centre for International Governance Innovation back in December. I’d be fascinated to learn more about any differences between the two.


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In other news, I originally intended to post to this blog once or twice per month. Somehow, I seem to have ended up posting weekly. While I enjoy doing so, this pace is not sustainable, especially as I prepare to return to the classroom in August. I therefore anticipate cutting back a bit going forward. If there are things you’d like me to write about, you can reach me here.

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To be notified of my next post, follow me on Twitter @achapnick

You can subscribe to my newsletter at https://buttondown.email/achapnick.

I would simply add that PM Trudeau’s government effectively has zero serious interest in, or concern for, these matters.

Relevant post from a year ago:

The PRC vs Canada’s National Security, or, “Justin Trudeau is not a serious man”

And one this January:

Globe and Mail to PM Justin Trudeau Gov’t: Time to Get Real about Foreign Interference, esp. by PRC (note UPDATE)

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Royal Canadian Navy Leads, and Schools, the Naval World on the Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) Tool

The Canadian government’s defence priorities on display at Proceedings, the magazine of the US Naval Institute:

1) From the “Editor’s Page“:

Against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine, this month is our annual focus on international navies. A record 32 international navy chiefs accepted our invitation to describe their nations’ maritime security challenges

2) The resulting responses:

The International Commanders Respond

This year, Proceedings asked the commanders of the world’s navies, “How is your nation’s maritime security environment changing? Have new regional threats, climate change, or the COVID-19 pandemic caused you to alter your future assumptions? How is the changing environment impacting operations, budget, and personnel policy for your Navy and/or Coast Guard?”

[The Canadian contribution deals broadly with operations (no countries are named as “competitors or adversaries”; odd with that war going on and Canada’s actively assisting Ukraine), fleet recapitalization and personnel–the final part of the contribution is excerpted below.]

Canada

Vice Admiral Craig Baines, Commander, Royal Canadian Navy

Personnel…Like the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole, the RCN is taking appropriate measures to affect culture change. The RCN is using the government’s Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) tool to assess systemic inequalities and how diverse groups of women, men, and gender-diverse people experience policies, programs, and initiatives. Using GBA+ also ensures that future ships and submarines are not designed on incorrect assumptions that could lead to unintended and unequal impacts on particular groups of people. This will help ensure that the future RCN is an inclusive workplace in which Canadians feel comfortable and willing to serve.

The only other of those 32 contributions that even remotely deals with such, er, cultural matters is the one from the Republic of Korea:

The third pillar is the transformation of our organizational culture; a spirit and lifestyle shared by its personnel. To meet the needs of the time, society, and our sailors, we must reform everything from the administrative system to the military and organizational culture. The ROK Navy will implement the naval culture reformation through a disciplined navy spirit; a fair, efficient, and transparent unit management; and the 21st-century advanced naval culture that fosters respect, compassion, sympathy, and communication among sailors.

Crickets however from such progressive stalwarts as Finland, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden. We certainly are showing international leadership on that tool.

Here’s a PM Trudeau government-directed agitprop tweet from the Canadian Armed Forces–how much otherwise productive time is spent throughout the federal government on virtue signalling as this government conceives things?

And another tweet:

Keeping the true north strong and free. Lenses at the ready.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Democrats Forgot Their Donkeys

Far too many of them live in, and appeal to, an increasing restricted American political space–excerpts from a major opinion piece at the NY Times:

What Democrats Don’t Understand About Rural America

By Chloe Maxmin and Canyon Woodward

Ms. Maxmin, now 29, was the youngest woman to become a state senator in Maine’s history. Mr. Woodward ran her two campaigns. They are the authors of the forthcoming book “Dirt Road Revival,” from which this essay is adapted.

NOBLEBORO, Maine — We say this with love to our fellow Democrats: Over the past decade, you willfully abandoned rural communities. As the party turned its focus to the cities and suburbs, its outreach became out of touch and impersonal. To rural voters, the message was clear: You don’t matter.

Now, Republicans control dozens of state legislatures, and Democrats have only tenuous majorities in Congress at a time in history when we simply can’t afford to cede an inch. The party can’t wait to start correcting course. It may be too late to prevent a blowout in the fall, but the future of progressive politics — and indeed our democracy — demands that we revive our relationship with rural communities.

…Over the past decade, many Democrats seem to have stopped trying to persuade people who disagreed with them, counting instead on demographic shifts they believed would carry them to victory — if only they could turn out their core supporters. The choice to prioritize turnout in Democratic strongholds over persuasion of moderate voters has cost the party election after election…

…It’s about a nationwide pattern of neglect that goes back years…

…When Democrats talk only to their own supporters, they see but a small fraction of the changes roiling this country. Since 2008, residents of small towns have fallen behind cities on many major economic benchmarks, and they watched helplessly as more and more power and wealth were consolidated in cities. We saw up close the loss, hopelessness and frustration that reality has instilled.

The current Democratic strategy leads not just to bad policy but also to bad politics. Our democracy rewards the party that can win support over large areas. Ceding rural America leaves a narrow path to victory even in the best circumstances. When the landscape is more difficult, Democrats set themselves up for catastrophic defeat…

Something has to change. The Democrats need a profoundly different strategy if they are to restore their reputation as champions of working people, committed to improving their lives, undaunted by wealth and power…

…it’s not too late to make amends, to rebuild our relationship with the quiet roads of rural America. We have to hit the ground running, today, this cycle, and recommit ourselves to the kind of politics that reaches every corner of our country.

One really cannot see today’s Democrats actually doing much to follow the advice above. And, even if they made a try one, wonders whether much of rural and small town/city America would take them seriously these days.

Related posts:

The United States? Or, The Growing Grand Canyon between Republicans and Democrats

“Democrats are not so different from Republicans in the slovenly attitudes they’ve lately taken on towards political violence”

How Woke Can the Democrats Go?

The Biden Presidency, or, Democrats Going over the Cliff?

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Class and the Curses of Current America…and Donald Trump

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “Mykal McEldowney/USA Today Network: Union representative Beth Dubree supporting Indianapolis-based employees of Rexnord, a ball-bearing manufacturer, at a protest against the company’s decision to move three hundred jobs to Mexico, November 2016”.)

Grotesque realities in a “modern” country. Excerpts that suit my predilections from an article at the NY Review of Books:

Who’s to Blame?

Adam Hochschild

Three new books argue that disappearing jobs and widening inequality helped make possible Trump’s politics of resentment.

Reviewed:

Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury

by Evan Osnos

American Made: What Happens to People When Work Disappears

by Farah Stockman

Like so many of us these days…these journalists are ultimately searching for the sources of the pickle we’re in. How could this country elect, andalmost reelect, a semifascist showman who flaunts his contempt for facts, laws, honest elections, and people with dark skin? Yes, we know the simple answer: the Electoral College. But we still need to fully probe the sources of Donald Trump’s enormous appeal. After all, his margins of loss in the popular vote were not great, and over 11 million more people voted for him in 2020 than in 2016. He is working fiercely to get his supporters into office in this fall’s election, and his shadow looms over the one coming up in 2024.

Evan Osnos was a New Yorker correspondent in China for some years before returning to the United States in 2013. In Wildland he looks at his country since then, including events that he covered as a reporter: the last two presidential campaigns and the January 6, 2021, invasion of the Capitol. His portrait is interwoven with visits to several places where he lived before going to China, including Greenwich, Connecticut—his childhood home—and Clarksburg, West Virginia, where he started his journalism career.

He finds a “cloven nation,” scarred by both a political divide and an increasingly vast economic one. In Greenwich, a center for hedge funds and their managers, one mogul has built a house larger than the Taj Mahal and another a twenty-five-car garage. At home-construction sites nearby there are “yellow bulldozers carving holes for underground movie theaters, squash courts, and wine cellars.”

In West Virginia, by contrast, people have been ravaged by the opioid epidemic, mountaintops have been sliced off by coal mining companies, and drinking water has been poisoned by a gigantic chemical spill. Everyone takes pollution so much for granted that a local team competes “in Roller Derby events with a logo of a woman in fishnet stockings and a gas mask.” Life expectancy has plummeted, and even “the state’s indigent burial fund, which helps poor families pay for funerals, was bankrupt.”

Meanwhile Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company, cleverly spun off into a separate corporation ten unionized mines in the state and in neighboring Kentucky. The new company held 40 percent of Peabody’s health care obligations to retired miners, but only 13 percent of its coal reserves. It soon filed for bankruptcy, abandoning the former miners and their families. Connecting two of his chosen corners of this cloven country, Osnos finds an investor who had profited from this cruel—but technically legal—deal in a twenty-seven-room Georgian manor with two swimming pools in Greenwich.

Osnos has a nice eye for detail, and his book reads smoothly, almost a little too smoothly, as if it were a long, somewhat rambling “Letter from America” in The New Yorker, where some of the material originally appeared. It suggests, but doesn’t really address, some basic questions, such as: Why are people in West Virginia not more resentful of those in Greenwich? Why is their anger flowing elsewhere? And how could Trump so skillfully harness it [emphasis added]?…

A profoundly important…a sea change in the US economy—is the subject of the best of these three books, Farah Stockman’s American Made.

Stockman is wise enough to see, however, that the story she tells here…has less to do with race than with class [emphasis added, if only the “progressives” would woke up to a reality that is not just all about racism].

A few weeks after the 2016 election, a large ball-bearing factory prepared to close. “Rexnord of Indianapolis is moving to Mexico and rather viciously firing all of its 300 workers,” tweeted Trump. “No more!” The first part of Trump’s tweet was, unusually for him, fully accurate. The second was not, because he ultimately did little to reverse the enormous outflow of American manufacturing jobs to low-wage countries. Stockman’s vivid, gracefully written account, an outgrowth of reporting she first did for The New York Times, zeroes in on the lives of three steelworkers at Rexnord: John Feltner, a white man; Shannon Mulcahy, a white woman; and Wally Hall, a Black man.

For John, who calls himself a hillbilly, working at Rexnord meant carrying on a proud union tradition, just like his factory worker father and coal miner grandfather and great-grandfather. A union job gave John the security he needed to avoid bankruptcy, which he had been through once, and to dream of a better life for his kids. He was an official of his local, and he and his wife held their son’s wedding rehearsal dinner at the union hall. For Shannon, who grew up in a trailer park, a job at the factory was a chance to escape an abusive man and, later, pay the medical bills of a disabled grandchild. And for Wally, it was a step up into steady employment; only after Stockman had known him for a year—her kind of reporting takes immense patience—did he reveal that he had spent time in prison for drug dealing.

…. Shannon felt particularly proud at learning skills that the men around her first claimed were beyond the reach of any woman:

If the batch furnace spat flames like the gates of Hell, she knew how to calm it down. If the autoquench—as high maintenance as an aging beauty queen—stopped in midcycle, she knew how to coax it into performing again…. Her favorite furnace was the Tocco, which broke down like a needy boyfriend when she left it alone too long.

Eventually men would sometimes ask her for technical advice.

There were hints that the jobs at Rexnord might not last forever. The factory speeded up its output of bearings, but “almost all of them were being shipped to a warehouse rather than to a customer.” And during labor negotiations, the company was surprisingly quick to agree to some union demands. Still, the move to Mexico came as a shock.

The company…said it would give severance, and a raise for their remaining weeks on the job, only to those who were willing to train their replacements [emphasis added, brutal].

Some workers balked and saw to it that factory machinery arrived in Mexico missing essential parts, but others, desperate to earn what they still could, agreed to do the training. One of the most poignant moments in a book that abounds with them comes when the warmhearted Shannon can’t help but befriend the Mexicans who have come to learn how to do her work: “Tadeo, who was the same age as her son, seemed like a sweetheart.” He apologizes, hand on heart, for taking her job—something some of the Mexicans apparently hadn’t understood would be the case when they were sent to Indiana for training. Shannon compares notes with another Mexican, Ricardo, and they realize that he is paid one sixteenth of her salary.

…a lot of us would like to feel that we’re all in it together: if you get ahead, I can get still ahead too. But Stockman’s sensitive portrait shows how the world is not that way for millions of Americans. “There are only so many jobs in this building,” a white union steward warned one of Rexnord’s first Black workers. “And if you take one, that means that our sons or son-in-law or our nephew can’t have it.” And on top of this, for people like those at Rexnord, is the prospect that there may abruptly be no more jobs in the building at all.

The combined impact of disappearing jobs and the widening gap between workers like Stockman’s trio and Osnos’s hedge fund millionaires in Greenwich means an end to one facet of the American dream: that you will earn more than your parents. That was true for 90 percent of people born in 1940 but is the case for only 50 percent today. And those who lost their jobs at Rexnord, like most people without college degrees, know they’re not in that fortunate 50 percent.

This was the mood of threat that Trump spoke to and magnified so brilliantly. As Stockman puts it, “Trump had a chip on his shoulder, like the steelworkers did [emphasis added].” When the Carrier Corporation, just down the road from Rexnord, also announced plans to move jobs to Mexico, Trump, at an Indianapolis rally, “asked Carrier workers to call out their years of seniority. Ten years. Seventeen years. Eighteen…. Trump told workers what they wanted to hear: that they deserved their jobs because they were Americans.”

Of course, he couldn’t save most such jobs, or deliver on his promises to “bring back coal!” (production of which dropped precipitously during his presidency) or to abandon job-vacuuming NAFTA (he did little more than change the name). But however fraudulent his rhetoric, it addressed deep fears [emphasis added, even if primarily to manipulate those fears for his own advantage]. And even if health or legal troubles remove Trump from the political scene, he has still charted the path for imitators to follow.

…Shannon, who has dreams about the factory, runs into several old colleagues at a job fair, but they’re leery of manufacturing positions for fear another plant may close. The saddest fate befalls Wally, the Black man. He suffers an apparent heart attack but adamantly refuses to go to the emergency room, having once been billed $27,000 for an appendectomy. A few days later he is dead. At his funeral, Stockman writes, a friend from the factory “recited a ritual text about death being a great equalizer, felling both pauper and prince. Yet…a prince would have gone to the hospital when he had chest pains. A prince would have had health insurance.”

Again arises the question of anger. Who can Wally’s friends and family blame for his vanished job and lack of insurance? After all, Shannon thinks, it was the company that made the decision to send the factory to Mexico. But who was ultimately responsible? Could they be appealed to? In recent years the plant was first owned by a British conglomerate, which sold it to the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm (with a Greenwich connection, incidentally: George H.W. Bush, who grew up there, was a Carlyle adviser after his presidency). Then Carlyle sold it to another private equity firm, which used Rexnord’s assets as leverage to borrow money, then sold it to a group of mutual funds. “Shannon never did find the list of shareholders,” Stockman writes. It is no wonder that for a time, her “Facebook page filled up with conspiracy theories.” On the pages of other workers, Stockman finds rumors that China has purchased the Grand Canyon…

The tinder [for fascism] is there today in the people Stockman portrays: men and women who are unlikely to ever again earn a decent wage from manufacturing, and who may never earn an equivalent wage from anything else. To the half of Americans who are losing ground economically, both Republicans and Democrats have offered little of substance. But Trump gave them something crucial: people to blame [emphasis added]. John Feltner, Stockman’s longtime union loyalist, voted for him in two elections and, she notices one day, has a Confederate flag in his garage.

Is it any wonder that people like him listen to racist pundits like Tucker Carlson who talk of the “Great Replacement” of white people? American workers are indeed being replaced: by Tadeo and Ricardo in Mexico, by low-paid laborers in China and other countries, and, perhaps most of all, by machines. The Black workers at Rexnord—40 percent of the total—are being replaced as well.

…the Democratic Party is almost as much under the sway of corporate lobbyists as the Republicans are. But now, as tinder smolders and Trump, his imitators, and a powerful right-wing media complex fan it into flame, something more is happening. In states they control, Republicans are attempting to suppress voting by ethnic minorities and the poor, and to put the counting of votes in highly partisan hands. If we cannot turn back the Great Replacement of democracy itself, the path ahead will look as dark as that day of the solar eclipse.

What a mess has become of the Great Republic (never truly a democracy). Some shining city on a hill.

Related posts:

Oregon, or, The United States: Two Nations in One State

The Meritocratic God that Failed, Part 2 (is it all about class or colour?)

Dead white Mike, a poor Oregonian

Not all Populism is Bad; it’s Race AND Class, Stupid

Der Untergang der Vereinigten Staaten (cont’d), or, the Perils of Universal Suffrage Democracy, Trump Section

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Theme song:

Québec is Now Effectively Hungary in Today’s Austro-Hungarian Canada

(Image is the Austro-Hungarian coat of arms, Hungary the right half.)

The only real differences are that the separation into two realms is not constitutionally prescribed here and la Belle Province does not have its own territorial army. Two excerpts from an excellent columnist (fluent in French and English) at the Globe and Mail:

In Quebec, the only thing deader than sovereignty is federalism

Konrad Yakabuski

…Across Quebec, Mr. Legault’s 10-year-old CAQ [Coalition Avenir Québec] has stolen PQ [the separatist Parti Québécois] voters with a Duplessis-style nationalist platform [see this from 1959] that treats the Canadian Constitution as a minor detail. He effectively runs the province as an independent country, without having to give up federal transfer payments or the loonie [the Canadian dollar].

For voters, it comes down to this: Why vote for an openly separatist party, and all the potential chaos that could entail, when the CAQ already provides the next best thing to independence [see Hungary below] with none of the inconveniences that sovereignty implies?

Mr. Legault’s strategy is working, for now. The CAQ is strongly favoured to win a second term in October. None of the four opposition parties represented in the National Assembly [the aptly named provincial legislature] is polling above 20 percentage points on a provincewide basis. Among francophone voters, the CAQ had a 32-percentage-point lead over its closest rivals in a March Leger Marketing poll.

…no party in the National Assembly stands up for Canada. That is bound to matter, sooner or later.

Following the Habsburg Empire’s decisive defeat by Prussia in 1866, Emperor Franz Josef accepted an Ausgleich (compromise) with the very restive Hungarians creating Austria-Hungary; before then the empire had been commonly known simply as Austria. The compromise granted the Kingdom of Hungary (part of the empire since the 16th century, with all the Ottoman-occupied territories being regained over two centuries) exceedingly wide internal autonomy, with only a few common areas of competence with the other parts of the empire left to the Imperial government in Vienna. An earlier tweet:

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

French Elections, or, Macron’s deuxième quinquennat?

Further to this April 9 AP story, one day before the first round of the French presidential elections,

In France, a nail-biting election as Macron’s rival surges

excerpts from a superb major article by an excellent Globe and Mail columnist; the best single reviews of tomorrow’s vote I’ve read (many photos at orginal);

France’s presidential election will make divisions worse, whether Emmanuel Macron wins or loses

As voters take stock of a centrist leader’s five years in office, challengers Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour are fighting for control of the far right – and creating new frictions that will take the next government a long time to reckon with

Konrad Yakabuski

…after a chaotic five-year mandate, known in French as le quinquennat, that has played out against the backdrop of the threat of Islamic terrorism, a populist uprising against Paris-based elites and the pandemic, Mr. Macron is poised to win again. War has something to do with that.

Paris, in all its spring glory, feels about as far away as you can get from a war zone. Even if COVID-19 case counts have been rising again in recent weeks, the French appear to have decided to put the pandemic in the rear-view mirror. Restaurants, patios and bars are brimming, and maskless patrons live it up as only the French know how. Yet, no matter whom you talk to, the topic inevitably turns to war.

The Feb. 24 outbreak of a bloody conflict in Europe awakened a desire among famously contrarian French voters for continuity at home. Mr. Macron’s stature on the European stage suddenly made him somewhat irreplaceable. French pollsters attributed the rise in his approval rating after the Russian invasion of Ukraine to l’effet drapeau, or the flag effect. But the effect appears to be wearing off as the shock of the war subsides. Mr. Macron’s lead in the polls has narrowed substantially in recent days. One wonders whether, in the absence of war, he might have faced a similar fate as his two immediate predecessors, the centre-left Mr. Hollande and the centre-right Nicolas Sarkozy, both of whom ended up as woefully unpopular one-term presidents.

For sure, France is more polarized than when Mr. Macron took office. If he wins a second term, his margin of victory stands to be much narrower than in 2017, when he won 66 per cent of the popular vote on the second ballot. This time, polls suggest, almost half of French voters will mark their first ballot for a candidate on the far-right or far-left…

Another cause of division lies in the fact that smaller parties are only weakly represented in France’s National Assembly, a function of the country’s electoral system, which requires candidates to garner 50 per cent or more of the second-ballot vote to win a seat…

At the heart of the divisions in France today, however, lies the question of what it means to be French. Terrorist attacks in late 2015, when Islamic jihadists gunned down 130 people in central Paris, and the beheading of a high-school teacher in 2020 after he showed caricatures of the prophet Mohammed to his students, have hardened attitudes toward immigration and religious accommodation within French society. Mr. Macron has attempted to strike a balance; his rivals accuse him of complacency in the face of the threat posed to the French identity by a growing Muslim population that they say does not believe in the secularist values of the Republic [see this February post: “Macron et les Musulmans en France, cont’d“].

No candidate has beaten this drum as loudly or effectively as Éric Zemmour [note his “background as an Algerian Jew of Berber stock“], a poison-tongued right-wing essayist and former cable news agitator, who has attempted to usurp Ms. Le Pen’s mantle on the far-right with a zero-immigration platform and promise to deport illegal immigrants, asylum seekers and criminals.

Until Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, it looked like Mr. Zemmour might finish second on the first ballot. His previous encomiums to Mr. Putin have now come back to haunt him. But no matter how he performs on the first ballot, his influence on this campaign, and French politics, cannot be understated.

Ms. Le Pen, despite having once also been in Mr. Putin’s thrall [see the 2017 photos here, just before the last French presidential elections], remains the candidate most likely to confront Mr. Macron on the April 24 second ballot, thanks to her solid support among working-class voters. The candidate for France’s traditional centre-right party, now known as Les Républicains, Valérie Pécresse, has struggled to crack double-digits in the polls, reflecting Mr. Macron’s success in drawing moderate Républicains toward him and Ms. Pécresse’s failure to stanch the exodus of others from her party toward Mr. Zemmour and Ms. Le Pen.

There is a chance that far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a politician given to fiery tirades against the rich and entitled who wants France to leave NATO, could surprise everyone. But he would first need to persuade French progressives to stop infighting long enough to prevent Mr. Zemmour or Ms. Le Pen from making it to the second round. The French left is weaker than at any time since the end of the Second World War…France appears set to emerge from this presidential election more divided than it went into it. Mr. Macron’s second quinquennat promises to be more agitated than his first. He will need all his chutzpah, and a bit of luck, to keep the populists at bay.

The question [below] is meant to provoke.

How many immigrants,” says the message on the giant LED screen set up at the front of the arena in Metz, a city of 400,000 near the German border, “has France taken in during President Macron’s five-year mandate?” When the figure of 1.8 million appears, the crowd boos, then breaks into chants of “Zemmour Président.”

The correct figure is closer to 1.25 million, based on the number of permanent resident visas issued to non-Europeans since 2017. No matter. When he takes the stage in front of 4,000 supporters, Éric Zemmour tells the crowd that this presidential election is the last chance to save France from Le Grand Remplacement, or Great Replacement. Mr. Zemmour has made the conspiracy theory hatched by French polemicist Renaud Camus the central conceit of his candidacy. It posits that Muslim immigrants and their descendants are gradually “replacing” white Christians as France’s dominant culture, all with the complicity of the country’s Paris-based elites.

“I will stop immigration, I will terrorize the terrorists, I will restore order,” Mr. Zemmour tells the crowd. “I will do everything to ensure that jihad never again is waged on our soil.”

The top two finishers on the April 10 first ballot will face off in a run-off election on April 24. Unless he is one of them, Mr. Zemmour warns nothing in France will change..

Mr. Zemmour…accuses Mr. Macron of using the war in Ukraine as a pretext for avoiding a debate on immigration during the 36-day-long campaign. He dismisses Rassemblement National Leader Marine Le Pen – who is in her third campaign for president – as an “eternal loser.”..

For weeks leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Zemmour appeared to be stealing Ms. Le Pen’s thunder as the French far-right’s preferred candidate.

Her own efforts to soften her image since 2017, emphasizing economic security rather than immigration, had led many hard core National Rally voters to switch their support to Mr. Zemmour.

But Ms. Le Pen’s strategy began paying dividends as voters grew more concerned about rising inflation. In contrast to Mr. Zemmour, she has promised a mix of protectionist and welfare state policies. She has vowed to hold a referendum on reducing immigration levels.

Still, polls show that as many of 80 per cent of Mr. Zemmour’s supporters would back Ms. Le Pen on the second ballot, helping her to significantly close the gap with Mr. Macron. That gap, which stood at more than 30 percentage points in the 2017 election, could be only a few percentage points this time around, according to some late campaign polls…

Emmanuel Macron dominates French public life like no President since Charles de Gaulle,..the powers inherent in the French presidency, along with the implosion of France’s traditional parties since 2017, have enabled him to govern without effective institutional opposition…

France’s once chronically high unemployment rate fell to 7.4 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2021, its lowest level since before the 2008 financial crisis. Mr. Macron’s reforms have made it easier to fire full-time workers and freed up businesses to determine local working conditions. The result, as counterintuitive as it might seem, has been impressive full-time job growth. Average disposable income has increased 5.3 per cent since 2017, the fastest rate in two decades. The gains have been even higher (7.5 per cent) for middle-income earners.

Mr. Macron has played the European card at every opportunity. He has taken advantage of Angela Merkel’s departure last year as German chancellor to push for greater economic integration and foreign policy co-ordination among the union’s 27 member states. His calls for an independent European defence policy – in 2019, he said NATO was in a state of “brain death” – have been superseded, however, by the Western alliance’s renewed sense of purpose in the face of Mr. Putin’s aggression…

Mr. Macron’s energy policy has undergone a 180-degree turn since he took power. In 2017, he embraced Mr. Hollande’s post-Fukushima plan to reduce France’s dependence on nuclear electricity to 50 per cent from 75 per cent by 2025. He now vows to extend the life of France’s existing reactors for as long as possible, and to invest massively in the construction of six new French-designed EPR2 reactors by 2050. France’s overall nuclear energy capacity would increase by 40 per cent. Mr. Macron has cited Germany’s ill-fated decision to close its nuclear power plants, exacerbating its dependence on Russian natural gas, to justify his own U-turn.

On economic matters, Mr. Macron leans mostly to the right, at least by French standards…

…he has vowed to take another stab at pension reform, raising the retirement age to 65 from 62. Mr. Mélenchon and Ms. Le Pen each vow to lower the retirement to age to 60 in most circumstances. Mr. Macron may have underestimated the depth of opposition to raising the retirement age and could still suffer for it on election day.

Still, pension reform is a fight France cannot avoid having. Spending on public pensions accounted for 13.6 per cent of gross domestic product in France in 2019, compared with an average of 7.7 per cent for countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Over all, public spending surged to 61.4 per cent in 2020, the highest ratio among OECD countries – a result of a “whatever it costs” approach to getting through the pandemic. The ratio is expected to fall to about 56 per cent this year – a better, but still eye-popping, level…

Mr. Macron’s penchant for showing off his intellectual chops – he earned degrees in politics and philosophy before graduating near the top of his class at the elite École nationale d’administration (ENA) – has been a double-edged sword. If he has a blind spot, it relates to working-class voters, who see him as elitist and do not believe he shares their concerns…

No Western leader spoke more often, or for as long, to Mr. Putin in the weeks leading up to the Russian leader’s decision to invade Ukraine. French diplomats, who had voiced skepticism about prewar U.S. intelligence pointing to an imminent invasion, were critical of President Joe Biden’s Feb. 18 declaration that he was “convinced” Mr. Putin had made up his mind. They felt Mr. Biden undermined Mr. Macron’s efforts at diplomacy.

“I think people recognize that he tried,” Mr. Lescure says of Mr. Macron’s entreaties to Mr. Putin. “There was a bit of a ‘good cop, bad cop’ thing with the States.” Still, Mr. Macron was poorly served by his own country’s faulty intelligence. The head of French military intelligence was subsequently fired.

Mr. Macron has continued to speak regularly to the Russian leader since the invasion and has held himself up to French voters as a potential peace broker. But he has also warned of possibly darker days ahead…

But Mr. Macron has shown uncommon confidence in his ability to charm his opposites on the world stage. There has been almost no international crisis during his first term that he has not run toward. Whether he has much influence outside of Europe remains unclear. France’s relations with its former colonies in Africa, especially Algeria [note this Jan. 2021 post: “France still trying to come to Grips, almost 60 Years later, with its “Savage War of Peace” in Algeria“], have deteriorated on his watch.

In February, Mr. Macron also announced the withdrawal of 4,600 French troops deployed in Africa’s Sahel region since 2013 on a mission to combat the Islamic State, citing a lack of collaboration from Malian military leaders who seized power in a 2021 coup, the second such coup in less than a year. Mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group moved in as France withdrew its troops…

His 2017 election was a watershed moment. Until then, France had been suffering the same institutional sclerosis and gridlock as many Western democracies. The main political parties had become so beholden to their increasingly narrow bases that they lost sight of the public interest.

Mr. Macron blew all that up…

My assessment is that he has succeeded more than he has failed. But where he has failed – in underestimating the depth of the anxiety that has sent voters into the arms of Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Zemmour – his failure could have grave consequences….

Aux urnes, citoyens!

Other posts, on a variety of matters, based on pieces by Mr Yakabuski are here.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Effectively Increasing Canadian Defence Spending Requires Major Procurement Reforms; Will PM Trudeau Bother to Make the Effort to Get it Done?

(Graph at top of the post [March 30, 2020 just before new budget] starts left at 1970–right click on image to see in full.)

Further to this post,

Ukraine: Quite a few Euros Giving Defence Budgets Big Boosts–and PM Trudeau’s Government? Note UPDATE

two people who really are experts in this field make some serious recommendations that should be implemented if this government is serious about defence matters (which is pretty unlikely, see John Ibbitson piece noted at the end of the post)–at the the Canadian Defence Associatons Institute:

Three ways to improve defence procurement in Canada

Richard B. Fadden, O.C. former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister and Deputy Minister of National Defence

LGen (ret) Guy Thibault, former Vice Chief of the Defence Staff

In National Defence, getting the money is the easiest part…

Given the deterioration of the international security situation, the Prime Minister has said he is open to additional defence spending. Assuming Mr. Trudeau meant what he said [getting a knife in early], getting additional defence resources approved though Cabinet and Parliament is fairly straightforward. The first real challenge is determining on what the money is to be spent. Then comes the seemingly impossible task of getting spending decisions effectively implemented as quickly as possible.

Mr. Trudeau is the last in a relatively long line of Prime Ministers who have pauperized Canada’s defence establishment. Whether they regret or are content with their decisions, is not important except that it explains why virtually every part of Canada’s defence establishment needs new resources. In seeking to revitalize the operational capabilities of the Canadian Forces, it is important to appreciate that this will not happen if new resources are exclusively directed to the CAF. The Department of National Defence (the civilian part of the Defence portfolio) and Public Services and Procurement in particular will need additional resources.

New resources for the Canadian Forces can be spent in four ways. The first category is major capital procurement – the fighter aircraft replacement and Canadian Surface Combatant programs are examples. The second category is minor capital procurement- sidearms or armour vests are examples. The third category covers personnel costs – both those relating to current personnel as well costs relating to increasing the head-count of the Forces. The fourth category includes funding for infrastructure – everything from runways, to jetties to personnel housing). The last category might be called operational costs which come in two parts: those relating to training and those relating to actual operations in Canada and abroad. If the Government is serious about increasing the capabilities of the Forces, all five categories will need an injection of money and on-going attention by both Ministers and the public service. The challenge we’d like to focus in on below is the procurement process itself.

Defence procurement is under constant criticism for being overly slow and expensive. There are three main reasons for these shortcomings. The first is the insistence of successive governments that defence procurement support policy objectives other than procuring equipment for the Forces. Objectives such as regional and industrial development, support to innovation and others are all laudable but applying them automatically to major projects means that the procurement of defence equipment takes second place [emphasis added]. The second reason is the extreme risk aversion of both Ministers and public servants to anything going wrong such that an already heavy process is over layered with checks and balances and delays for additional study. Whether these precautions are to help avoid questions in the House, stories in the media or visits to the Federal Court or the International Trade Tribunal they mean delays and cost increases.

The third reason is the view of Governments — admittedly broadly supported by public opinion – that national security and defence are not as important as any number of other policy areas [emphasis added]. This means that defence spending gets a low priority, frequent cutbacks and poor priority setting. In any event, the shortcomings of the procurement process can be shared between politicians, public servants and CF personnel.

A number of possible measures to improve the procurement process are set out below but even the best procurement system on the planet would not change the fact that defence is an expensive business. Currently, for Canada, defence will be especially expensive as we will be — or should be — playing catch-up with most of our allies.

The first aid to an improved defence procurement system is sustained prime ministerial and ministerial attention based on their belief that the national security of Canada and of its allies requires it [emphasis added]. This will happen most easily if Canadians generally share that view but whether this is the case or not, it is the responsibility of governments to lead and to do what it is necessary to provide it. Surely, the current international environment requires nothing less.

If the above is forthcoming, the second aid will develop relatively easily. This would be an acceptance that greater risks are to be taken to advance specific procurement projects, including that public servants be encouraged to recommend — where appropriate — that specific procurement projects be exempt from some or all the rules which govern them. This should specifically include the possibility of subordinating other policy objectives to the delivery of required equipment [emphasis added]. The third aid is the acceptance by all — including the Forces — that while perfection is always desirable when developing capability requirements, sometime getting something promptly is the desirable course.

The final aid is utilizing at least some new defence resources on existing projects. For example, topping up the CSC budget to ensure that the full number of — fully capable — projected ships be delivered. Another example, relates to the need to increase our defence presence in the Arctic and could mean upgrading the Nanisivik Naval Facility to at least what was initially intended — a year-round capability including one or more runways to accommodate both Canadian and NATO aircraft. The same sort of upgrade could be applied to the Canadian Army’s Arctic Training Center. Finally, to improve communications and surveillance in the Arctic , build on existing commitments to support the on-going development of a low earth orbit constellation which could support both military and civilian needs.

There seems to be agreement in Canada and throughout NATO that we are all facing a very dangerous international environment. If this is the case, Canada will need to up its game on national security and defence. This will mean, as a former Deputy Prime Minister once said, our not going to the washroom when the bill is being circulated! But, it’s not only money, it’s ongoing attention by the Prime Minister and appropriate Ministers. And given Canada’s history in this area, the key is “on-going” attention. As Minister Anand has noted, Canada can get things done when its important – vaccine acquisition and distribution being the latest examples [emphasis added].

From that column by Mr Ibbitson:

Canada may increase its defence spending – but that doesn’t mean it’s serious about restoring our military

John Ibbitson

Thursday’s [April 7] budget will almost certainly include increased funding for defence. Do not expect that increase to signal a new and sustained commitment to restoring Canada’s rundown military.

Canadians feel safe. As long as they feel safe, they will not sacrifice. They will vow to stand with Ukraine, condemn alleged Russian war crimes, offer shelter to refugees.

But as Adam Chapnick, a professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College, observes, “we aren’t in the mental headspace to have a serious conversation,” about defence spending, “and our elected representatives aren’t in the headspace to have it either [emphasis added].

…Leah Sarson, a professor of international relations at Dalhousie University, expects to see a commitment to upgrade NORAD aerospace defences [see this post: “What Worries the NORTHCOM/NORAD COMMANDER? What Worries PM Trudeau’s Government about Continental Defence? Note UPDATE“]

But she doesn’t expect any sustained effort to bring Canadian defence spending up to the NATO target of 2 per cent of GDP.

Canadians typically like to see an emphasis on humanitarian aid and diplomacy,” she told me, “rather than an emphasis on defence and military spending [emphasis added].”

Canada is content to shelter beneath the American umbrella. Oceans separate us from conflict in Eurasia, and the Western hemisphere is mostly at peace…

The military in Canada has such a small footprint that its well-being doesn’t register with Canadians. Politicians don’t prioritize it because no one raises the issue at the door…

The question, then, is whether the events in Ukraine will galvanize public opinion in favour of sustained increases. The answer is almost certainly no [emphasis added]

…a credible military – one capable of seriously contributing to the defence of Canada’s interests in the Arctic and of contributing meaningfully to NATO in Europe – is long overdue…

NATO partners are entitled to something better than a Canadian military that is equipped on the fly, with procurement either infinitely delayed or rushed through in response to the latest crisis. Our forces rely far too heavily on the kindness of allies.

But that would entail sacrifice. And a Liberal government that has signed a pact with the NDP to introduce publicly funded dental care and pharmacare is unlikely to ask Canadians to support increased spending on the military as well, along with the higher taxes needed to pay for it.

So don’t be fooled if you see headlines Thursday about increased defence spending in the budget. It likely won’t mean much of anything [emphasis added].

Sigh. We are truly not a serious country. But we are great at pretending:

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds